Friday, October 27, 2006

Telemachus' Lament

The wind that whips across the shining sea
Brings tales of loss and love back home to me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Here is an interesting article on peptide grammar. I am also incidentally reading a book by Hauser titled "Moral Minds," in which the author argues for a moral deep grammar similar to Chomsky's language deep grammar. I'm not surprised to learn that grammars are older and go deeper than the human mind.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Aphorism on American Poverty

You cannot simultaneously have an obesity problem and a proverty problem.


I made the mistake of reading one of Juvenal's satires. There is so much fodder right now in the world. So much fodder. And it has historically not been good news for a society when the satires begin to get written. So, shall I begin?

And where to begin? I'm almost tempted to just run through each and every Senator and Congress person. Then hit the White House and the SUpreme Court, move on to various states, various social leaders, issues of education -- here I have a lot to work with, since my wife works in a public school, and I work in a charter school. A blessing and a curse all at once. So much to work with, so little time to work.

So much work to do, so little time to work. I need a patron. Then I could do the work I need to do. Anyone out there want to be a patron of the arts? Of philosophy? Of an up-and-coming vicious satire?

I've always thought the doom-sayers were full of it. But I've seen too much of late, I see the wheels of history turning in a way that they have turned before. The barbarians are at the gate, and they are being let in by those so weak they don't want to offend anyone. Even those who claim to be the strongest are weak beyond compare. The most terrifying difference is that the barbarians are also the most educated among us. On 9-11 we were attacked by a cadre of the college-educated. They were not the poorest, they were not the least among us, they were not even desperate -- they were highly educated, highly motivated, and highly religious. This is a religious war. Those who say otherwise are those who have never had religion in their lives, and have no idea what it is even about, who don't think religion has any real effect on peoples' lives. It is these people who will the death of us all. Well, them, and others like them -- people like Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong-Il -- who only plan, like the dogs they are, to make cynical use of others' religious fervor.

I've been all over the place -- or have I? The satire seems to have begun a little earlier than I originally thought.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bad Eggs

Oftentimes we believe something -- understand what it means in theory -- but don't really know for certain, since we don't have any actual evidence for it. For example, I understand that disruptive students severely harm the educations of their fellow students. If there is but one in the class who will not be quiet, who is rude and disruptive and a showoff and won't sit down and won't do his work, then that prevents his fellow classmates from doing well. I understood this in theory.

I have a 7th grade English class that has a student who is exactly this way (loud, rude, etc.). Recently I have been reading Aesop's fables to teach my students the very basics of storytelling. I read them one, then ask them 1) What happened? 2) Who is the protagonist? 3) Who is the antagonist? 4) What is the setting? 5) What could you learn from this fable? They do the work in class. I have done this several times already. Let me give 1) the statistics for the two days this student was in class, then give 2) the statistics for two days he was suspended.

1) Day 1:
Average grade = 24
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all, out of 24 students) = 14
Average grade without counting zeros = 58

Day 2:
Average grade = 34
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 11
Average grade without counting zeros = 62

2) Day 3:
Average grade = 64
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 6
Average grade without counting zeros = 87

Day 4:
Average grade = 81
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 2
Average grade without counting zeros = 89

That's right, the average grades doubled with the absence of this student. More, this absent student has a friend in my class. Here are his grades, from day 1 to day 4: 42, 10, 100, 90. He went from a 10 one day to a 100 the next day. Am I really to think that he suddenly "got it" within a day? That's not an impossiblity. However, his highly disruptive friend was not there -- and his grades leapt up.

What does this mean? Should be just get rid of some students, count them as a lost cause? Perhaps not -- I'm not quite so pessimistic as that yet. However, this does indicate that one major problem with our schools is the very presence of such students. How to fix it? How does one fix bad parenting? Or poor societal influences? However, we can reintroduce actual discipline to our classes (I have discovered that the only students detentions work on are those who don't get them -- those who do, their own parents don't want them around, and those parents are happy to get rid of them an hour earlier). And we need to have strong discipline from early on. Teach manners, ethics, posture -- things we have abandoned long ago. These will lay the foundation of good behavior later. Will this mean there will be no bad eggs? Of course not. But there will be many, many fewer -- and those we do still have, we can remove from the classrooms more easily and put them in classrooms together, away from the rest of the students, so the rest of the students have a chance to become educated.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


"In coveting is evil's root" (Chretien de Troyes, "Eric and Enide," Ruth Harwood Cline, tr. line 2935).

I'm reading one of Chretien de Troyes' Arthurian romances, "Eric and Enide," and I ran across the above line. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife or goods." Indeed, without the sin of covetousness, there would be no need for "Thou shalt not steal" nor "Thou shalt not committ adultery." I would venture to guess that there would also be no need for "Thou shalt not murder" either. When one covets what others have, one wants precisely that thing that they have, and not just something like it. Coveting results in theft, adultery, and even murder, as well as resentment, which incidentally gives rise to redistributionary economic and political theories, giving rise to taxation, the welfare state, and the various forms of socialism, especially communism. When one covets, one can even learn to hate the good for being good.

It seems to me that there is a difference between coveting -- wanting precisely what others have -- and . . . what is the word? ambition, perhaps? still, this word seems insuffient -- wanting the kinds of things others have. If one wants the kinds of things others have, one is compelled to work hard to get those things. This attitude is the very basis of capitalism. But if one wants the exact thing someone else has, one is guilty of the sin of covetousness, which leads to theft, adultery, and any number of other sins. We have typically failed to differentiate between these two attitudes toward what others have. That too, it seems to me, is a great sin as well -- for then we cannot tell the difference between good and evil.

The Gift of Education

I don't know why I take it personally, but I do -- students' refusal to do their homework, to study, to listen and learn. Perhaps it is because education is a gift, and I, as a teacher, wish to bestow this gift on my students. Who would not be insulted, offended, hurt if their gifts were turned down and even distained? Imagine ofering a gift of great value to someone and they turned up their nose at it, sneered at it, threw it back in your face? How would you feel? That, indeed, is how I feel when students don't want to learn, don't want to work, disrupt class and talk and refuse to listen when I speak. That is why I take it personally when students won't do everything they can to accept the gift of education I offer. To refuse a gift is a hateful thing indeed. That is why I feel my anger is justified. That is why I take it personally.

Higher Education or Trade School?

One of the major reforms I would encourage in education includes a restructuring of attitudes toward higher education. Not everyone needs to go to college to get an academic education. Many need to go to trade schools or technical colleges. Our high schools need to reflect that reality. In Europe, grade school students take aptitude tests to determine if they go into academics or to a high school to help them learn a trade. I think that would be a good step for the U.S. to take -- though with some ability for the child and parents to choose, of course. The following essay: explains the position I support in greater detail. I am fortunate that at the charter school where I teach, there is an honors program that allows me to teach the academic children at a much higher level, meaning they can get a properly classical education, which will truly prepare them for university. The rest of the students, who either will not go to college, or who should be going to a technical school, but will go to college instead (making the mistake the essayist is talking about), should be given an education that will more directly involve the kinds of situations they will actually encounter in work and life. Which could lead me into a discussion of the need for reintroducing ethics (including basic things like manners and good posture) into the schools (starting in pre-K), but that is another posting for another time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Miscellaneous Education

Not that I spent a lot of time posting on this blog anyway, but ever since I started working at A+ Academy teaching 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grade English, I've found myself with less and less time to do anything other than prepare for classes. And my computer crashing as completely as a computer can seem to crash hasn't helped any. No place to do any work. Not that I have the time anymore.

This is not to say that I'm not enjoying myself teaching. I am teaching The Iliad to my honors 8th grade class and The Odyssey to my honors 9th grade class. I am reading them out loud to my classes because the only version of The Iliad available at the school is this godawful prose translation, and I want my students to get the best translation of it, so they can get closest to what it is like in the Greek. More, I am reading them out loud so my students can experience these works as they were originally experienced (or at least close to that, since I'm not about to sing them, and nobody would want me to). Finally, I am doing it to develop their listening skills. We don't teach our children to listen.

I am also incredulous at the level of ignorance I have had to face. I knew, with experience teaching Freshman composition, that there was almost know knowledge of grammar -- or much of anything, for that matter. But still, I am shocked anew at how little students learn in school. More, I am shocked at how little anyone expects of them. I have honors English students who actually asked me "what's a predicate?" and "what's a subject?" I've decided these children will not leave my class not knowing grammar. I have told them I will give them grammar quizzes at least every week until they all make a hundred. And I am talking about having them pick out the subject, the predicate, the nouns, the articles, the verbs, the adjectives, the adverbs, the direct objects, and the indirect objects -- of simple sentences. My honors students (8,9,10th grades) have done poorly with me, and it is because I am having to teach them about a decade's worth of information that they should have known by now.

But this is nothing compared to 7th grade, where I cannot teach anything at all because I have to get them under control first. I only received these 7th graders a few weeks ago, after 9 were siphoned off from another class. I have had to come up with a set of extremely strict rules, ranging from the complete abolition of speaking in the class unless I call upon them to making them have good posture and have a zero-tolerance policy for not bringing paper and pen to class. I had to give out 5 detentions today for people not bringing back signed copies of the class rules -- that's right, only 4 brought their back, and a few said they had lost theirs. I told them they had better find them, and that they would get detention every day until I received those papers back, signed.

All of which made me realize that if I ran my own charter school, there would be a few things that I would absolutely enforce in the school:

1. A true physical education, centered around gymnastics
2. A requirement for all students to learn good posture
3. A musical education (my best students are all in band)
4. A poetic education, where poetry is the core around which all reading is based. I am sick of having to re-teach the love of poetry after teachers have taught students to hate it.
5. Repetition and memorization -- which, according to both traditional educational theories and modern brain science, is the only way the brain learns anything
6. A language curriculum based on what we have learned from linguistics -- meaning, students will be taught foreign languages when they can learn them, between the ages of 5 and 10.
7. An ethical education, where students are taught to take responsibility for their own actions and not whine over every little thing.
8. A reintroduction of classes such as shop and automechanics, as well as plumbing and electronics, since not every child is an academic or will go to college.
9. A high standard of excellence -- since this is what is lacking in most schools anymore.

The most important thing that needs to be done with schools is the abolition of Rousseau and all his thoughts about everything from education. If there was one person who was completely wrong about everything, it was Rousseau. Even Marx got a few things right. But it is appalling that educational theories exist that are based on the theories of a man who said the best thing that happened in the world was the destruction of the Great Library, since it destroyed so much accumulated knowledge.